CC STEM Project Findings Offer Insight into Women’s Pursuit of STEM Careers

Young Women Working with Computers

With funding from a three-year National Science Foundation (NSF) grant, the CC STEM project team explored how community colleges (CCs) support women’s entrance into engineering and computer science engineering technology (CSET) education and careers. PI Lois Joy, co-PI Abigail Jurist Levy, and Research Associate Lisa Marco-Bujosa examined individual and institutional factors that contribute to women’s recruitment, progress, and completion of CC engineering and CSET programs.

“Enrollment in community colleges is skyrocketing,” says Joy, “and they are playing an increasingly important role for teens right out of high school, as well as people wanting to retrain to find new work—particularly in the STEM fields. We're finding that women continue to be very much underrepresented in these programs and fields and we’re trying to get a handle on why that is. We think there may be a big role CCs can play in building bridges into these careers for women.”

The team conducted case study analyses of two Mass. CCs in urban settings—chosen because they have strong engineering and CSET programs—including surveying 700 students, interviewing 30 students, and speaking with 6 administrators about how they support students in general and engineering and CSET students in particular. The team also analyzed national data on three cohorts of students in all STEM fields at CCs to discern gender differences in who enters CCs; who stays, leaves, or transfers; and who gets a STEM job.

Joy notes, “Our findings from the national data indicate that no matter what the highest level of high school math men and women have, women are placed in lower level mathematics classes in community colleges. Placement is not happening in the same way for men and women. We are also finding that women appear to be leaving STEM fields at a faster pace than men leave.”

Last Updated: October 2016